American Animation in Its Golden Age
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A very detailed account of animated cartoons, strongly emphasizing the influence and personality of Walt Disney. This genre’s history is still undercovered, so cartoon expert Barrier’s book should come as a welcome addition to researchers and fans. The former editor of Funnyworld magazine opens his text with an assessment of pioneers Bray, BarrÇ, and McCay, focusing on the businesses and systems (as opposed to the artistry) that went into their cinematic experiments. Barrier situates the cartooning pioneers in their office environs, detailing the management and scut work necessary for the films— production. Moving on quickly to the meat of his book, the Walt Disney studios, the author takes an interesting tack in contrasting Disney’s self-image (garnered from letters to his wife) with the views of his associates and underlings. While fellow animators considered him something of a bully and philistine, Walt saw himself more as a driven businessman. Barrier extensively covers cartooning’s business transactions, noting specific dollar amounts paid to animators, studios, and distributors and exploring the deal-making that brought cartoons from the East to the West Coast. Nor does he neglect the art’s mechanics, providing reasonably in-depth analysis of its growth from simple series of drawings to multilayered cel animations. The book also covers the later years of cartooning, up through the mid-1960s, with a brief appendix on the longer animations of the ’70s and ’80s. While Warner Bros. and MGM each get chapters, the narrative continually returns to Disney’s output; some may question whether this is the definitive text on cartooning’s history, or merely a Disney-centric take on it. The book’s strongest point is also its weakest: Barrier’s in-depth coverage of every squabble, transaction, and mode of cartooning. This makes it appealing to the historian and cartoon geek, but a bit dull for the average reader.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-19-503759-6
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1999